Friday, 3 December 2010

Bite 2: Nadar - Pierrot Photographer, 1854-55

Nadar - Pierrot Photographer, 1854-55
Perhaps the most lasting image from Nadar's successful career, created soon after the birth of photography, Pierrot Photographer can be seen as unintentionally profound - a collaborative performance, a dialogue between photographer and subject, resulting in an artful, self-aware image.

Produced during a short-lived partnership with his brother Adrien Tournachon, they photographed a series of images, mainly for promotional purposes, of the celebrated French mime artist Jean-Charles Deureau as Pierrot.

Pierrot was seen not so much as a clown, in the contemporary sense, but rather as a sensitive 19th century romantic artist. Here he is the allegorical figure Photography itself, his delicate hand gestures - lifting the dark slide with two fingers from one hand and regarding the camera with the other - suggesting the magic ritual of the photographic process. He is a magician and the photograph, his magic act. This is perhaps the earliest work to so aptly intersubjectively explore the medium using the camera itself.

Light and shadow is strongly emphasised, the harsh lighting making Pierrot's white costume seem almost sculptural, aided by the stark grey background immediately behind him - a kind of canvas, and the simple composition. He is becoming object and standing by the camera, thoughtfully regarding the photographer - while playing that role himself - in chiasm, he appears very much aware of this.

James H. Rubin, Nadar 55, Phaidon, 2001.
Mary Warner Marien, Photography: A Cultural History (2nd Ed.), Lawrence King, 2006.